Prof. Mark Poznansky is the Director of the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center (VIC) at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, which he founded to accelerate the discovery and development of new medical products for specific types of cancers, infectious and immune mediated diseases. One key part of VIC’s mission is the training of the next generation of innovators and scientists. Each summer Prof. Poznansky, who gained his PhD while at Clare College, provides stipendiary support for Natural Sciences or Medical students from Clare to spend 12 weeks at VIC under the supervision of a senior scientist. This annual program was initiated with the eminent Dr. Celia Duff at Clare and has been continued in a wonderful collaboration with Prof. Jason Carroll. While here at MGH, the Clare student receives extensive training in cutting edge experimental techniques and analysis of data and frequently gains coauthorship on publications ensuing from the original research conducted in the lab. Often times the selected Clare student has continued to be involved with the research remotely long after the completion of their studentship. Some Clare students requested to return for a second “tour of duty” at VIC the following summer. All the selected students from Clare College have been exceptional and many have gone on to successful careers in medicine and scientific research and report that the studentship changed their lives in pursuing a career in academia. We are now celebrating the 20th year of this very successful program that included former and current Clare students – from James Smith and Emma Anderton in 2002 and 2003 all the way to James Adeosun in 2022.
This summer, I was fortunate enough to spend 11 weeks at the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center (VIC) in Boston, immersing myself in immunology research. The VIC is directed by Professor Mark Poznansky, whose enthusiasm for science emanates around the lab. The placement was absolutely fantastic! From a research standpoint, the work seemed to be right on the cutting edge of immunology. The project I was working on centered around their self-assembling vaccine technology, mainly in the context of a therapeutic HPV vaccine. Specifically, I was testing whether using microneedle arrays was a viable method of vaccine administration, whilst also developing an in vitro assay for testing both this and other vaccines. We also theorized a new vaccine model based on some literature from a Chlamydia trachomatis vaccine trial at Hammersmith. Additionally, I got to go to the main MGH campus and see a few patients with Prof. Poznansky, which was very exciting as a medical student; the hospital was incredibly impressive. Beyond the science, the lab environment was very inspiring, with people from many different backgrounds working towards similar aims. Frequent lab events meant that I felt very welcomed from the start, and very involved by the end. For example, I was asked to arrange weekly seminars for the intern cohort, led by principal investigators of the various labs within the VIC. I was also afforded an in-depth insight into some of the technicalities of research, such as the grant writing process, as well as the possibility of having a mixed clinician / research role. The city of Boston itself had lots to offer in the downtime. Excellent public facilities and social venues provided a great cultural experience. Highlights included the famous Boston Freedom Trail, as well as eateries serving variations of the popular local hit, clam chowder. Furthermore, Boston is closely apposed to many important tourist destinations. This allowed me to travel to both Cape Cod and NYC on separate weekend trips, providing a more rounded cultural experience of the USA. In summary, the placement afforded me the opportunity of a lifetime, both academically and in terms of broader life experience, and for that I am incredibly grateful.